Jenny has her life together. She’s a successful professional, living in a great apartment—what’s not to be proud of? But Jenny has a secret, in the form of a second apartment full of things she can’t bear to get rid of. Jenny is a hoarder and, as she embarks upon a relationship with a man from her past, she finds herself struggling more and more to manage the lies propping up this fictional outer life she’s been building up for years.
Things, by Francine Garson, has a very interesting premise, and I think Jenny runs counter to some of the pre-conceived notions of hoarders that people tend to have. I thought her motivation made a lot of sense, and her attachment to the possessions she had built up in her secret flat was easy to empathise with—I was a kid who got very attached to my belongings, and if I’d had to get rid of a bunch of toys and books every few years I would have been devastated.
The writing is straightforward and utilitarian for the most part, with some lovely descriptive flourishes at times, and I thought it was exceptional at conveying the sense of peace that Jenny feels in amongst the carefully curated items in her second apartment. I also thought the author did a great job pacing Jenny’s growing understanding of her own problem. The downside of the writing for me was that it was highly repetitive, which worked to demonstrate the sense of order and routine Jenny has imposed on her life but could also become disengaging over time.
Nick, the character who Jenny reconnects with and begins dating, was very sweet. I appreciated the symmetry of him keeping his own secrets while the relationship developed, and I adored his family. I found a few of the characters in the story a little flat though, and a lack of clear motivation or depth on their part made some aspects of the conflict that emerged towards the end of the story feel contrived. I was also disappointed that some of the conflicts I thought were being set up never came to fruition. I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, so I don’t want to go into too much detail, but there’s a recurring concern raised by Jenny’s landlord that she’s renting a second apartment in order to do business out of one of them, which would be against the terms of the lease, and this really felt like it was going to turn out to be more important than it actually was.
I thought Jenny’s relationship with her mother, and the echoes of her relationship with her late father, were both portrayed carefully and thoughtfully. Ultimately I would have liked to see more of Jenny’s mother, or to see her more consistently throughout the latter part of the story, but I thought the moments we did have between them carried a lot of depth.
Things is an intriguing read, dealing with a scenario you don’t see represented all that often. I can’t personally vouch for how fair or realistic the depiction of the hoarding mindset was, but I thought it was a very sympathetic portrait. The writing, while it didn’t always grab me, has some of the understated style of Sally Rooney, so if you were a fan of Conversations With Friends this might be a good match for you.
You can buy Things online at Amazon.